Wondering if you should make decluttering your goal for 2020? Try this quiz to find out:

  1. Are you eating in your recliner in front of the television because you can no longer see the dining room table?
  2. Do you avoid opening your garage door during daylight hours because you’re afraid your neighbors will start gossiping about you?
  3. Does your stash of holiday decorations rival the shelves at a craft store?
  4. Do you wish you had enough kitchen counter space to accommodate both a mixing bowl of cookie dough and a baking sheet hot out of the oven?
  5. Have your adult children sworn they’ll want nothing to do with your possessions after you’re gone?
  6. Do you ever wonder what you’d say if the producers of Hoarders came knocking, offering a nice chunk of change for a guest appearance?

Yes, yes, and yes? It’s time to declutter your home. Pronto. No time like the New Year! You can do it! It’ll be fun! Get your partner to join in for a meaningful bonding experience!  Or better yet, make it a fun family project! It will feel soooo good once it’s done!

If all that enthusiasm has your head spinning and stomach churning, take a deep breath and relax. Such an undertaking may not be the theme park vacation the kiddos are rooting for, but it doesn’t have to be an overwhelming grind, either. With shows like Hoarders shocking us with worst-case-scenarios of clutter gone wild, and irresistible organizing guru Marie Kondo marketing the magic of tidy spaces, it’s never been more trendy or convenient to jump on the clutter-free bandwagon. Finding the best approach to decluttering your home can be as simple as surfing the Internet, downloading an app, or calling a professional organizer for help.

The Time is Now

Although spring cleaning is traditionally considered the time to declutter, many professionals say the immediate aftermath of the holiday season can cause anxiety levels to spike.

“Where are we going to put all of this stuff?” is the big question, says Maria White, owner of Enuff With The Stuff. A certified professional organizer, she’s  been assisting panicked clients with taming their quarters for more than 10 years.

Her first order of business when working with a client is to assure them that the process of decluttering doesn’t have to happen in just one day.

“Start small, so you’re not overwhelmed,” says White, who lives in Northern Virginia outside Washington, D.C. “Focus on one area at a time. Much of the time, it’s more about decision-making than anything else. That’s what wears people out.”

Having someone on hand who is not emotionally invested in the clutter to help guide the decision-making can be invaluable.

“It helps to have someone question you about why you want to keep something, to get you to explain why you love it,” says Kirsten Fisher, who has been assisting Tampa Bay area residents declutter for about five years through her firm, Imagine Home Organization. “It’s always helpful to have someone keeping you on track, working in the right direction.”

Fisher has seen a number of instances when someone decides to declutter their home on their own, only to discover they’re merely shifting messes from one location to another.

“They call when the level of frustration is too much,” she says. “It’s usually when some big life event happens; they’ve moved, they had a baby, they get a new job, or they have an empty nest.”

@harmonicusa via Instagram

Decluttering Tips for a Great Year

  • Attitude is everything. Thinking of the job as a giant suck fest could turn into a self-fulfilling prophesy, so look for ways to make it fun. Perhaps create a competition with a spouse or between the kids: whoever uncovers the dining room table first or collects the most stray AA batteries gets to wear the unClutter Crown.
  • Make a plan. If the goal is to declutter your entire house, do a walk-through first with paper and pen, noting which rooms or spots have priority and the materials (heavy-duty plastic bags, boxes, clear plastic totes) needed for packing away the clutter. Estimate the amount of time it should take to declutter. Refer back to the list throughout, crossing tasks off as they are completed.
  • Think money. Can you trade any of the clutter for cash? Craigslist, Facebook Marketplace, eBay, and LetGo are a few places to sell stuff that other people may want. There are also a growing number of web-based buyers of specialty items. Decluttr, for example, will buy used CDs, DVDs, textbooks, and tech items like cell phones and video game consoles. Gazelle.com and Envirofone will also buy phones and tablets, while Vintage Cash Cow is in the market for antiques. If you have enough energy left after decluttering, you can hold a garage sale to unload what’s left.
  • Donate, donate, donate. There’s always Goodwill and the Salvation Army for purging clothing and household items, but consider other local nonprofits as well. Many senior centers, veteran nursing homes, domestic violence shelters, group homes, animal shelters, church or community pantries, and civic groups seek general and specialty donations. Lions International, for example, recycles used eyeglasses and St. Jude’s Ranch for Children collects greeting cards for crafting projects.
  • Make it a party. Seriously. Oprah says decluttering parties are a thing. Gather up a couple of clutter-challenged friends, lure them to your home with food and drinks, show them your mess, and let them tear into it. Then you return the favor.
  • Look to others for inspiration. If your motivation and enthusiasm for decluttering is waning, try surfing the internet for encouragement. There are myriad blogs and articles that fit just about any personality or management style. Turn to Marie Kondo for a metaphoric hug and firm, but practical, steps to reclaiming control of your home. If all else fails, flip on an episode or two of AMC’s Hoarders for a look at worst case scenarios of clutter taking control.
  • Ask for help. There’s no shame in hiring a professional. The National Association of Productivity and Organizing Professionals (NAPO) is a resource for finding one in your area. Find My Organizer is another resource, which matches zip codes to a database of professionals within that area.

You Don’t Have to Go it Alone    

Seeking help from a professional organizer should be as normal as hiring a landscaper or consulting a dietician, says Ellen DeLop, a Houston-based certified professional organizer and past president of NAPO.

“We ask for help all the time with other things – cleaning the house, getting in better shape, our diet,” says DeLop, who specializes in clients with attention deficit disorder. “There’s a lot of coaching going on because it’s more socially acceptable.”

Many people find themselves faced with uncluttering a home as a result of life transitions, such as a parent passing or the birth of a baby. Dealing with the transition is challenging enough without adding the stress of clearing out a house, DeLop says.

“A lot of people try to handle this themselves, and it just compounds the situation,” she says. “We’re here to help people get through it, in a completely non-judgmental way.”

DeLop, who launched Professional-Organizer.com in 2000, observes that the decluttering trend is in a growth mode, which she credits in part to the popularity of Kondo’s KonMar method.

“It’s really created an uptick,” says DeLop. “There are people forming small groups to help each other out.”

The growing need to find places to put things is also spawning a surge in the number of self-storage facilities that have been popping up all over the country in the past decade, DeLop and others note.

“Having a storage unit is fine if it’s temporary,” says White. “But if you’re holding on to things for a year or more, that’s just money down the drain.”

On the other hand, portable storage containers that can be set up right outside your house can be a useful tool during a major home decluttering or downsizing project. They can also be particularly helpful to organizers assisting homeowners with residential remodeling projects, DeLop says.

Whatever your strategy and tools, remember that decluttering is worth the effort. Living in an uncluttered, well-organized home is energizing and reduces stress, in addition to saving time on a daily basis. To us, that sounds pretty darn appealing as we head into a new year.

Looking for more ideas on decluttering? Check out How to Declutter in 6 Steps and 5 Smart Tips for Downsizing and Storing.

Lorie Jewell is a freelance writer living in the Tampa area who spends plenty of time thinking about decluttering her home while knitting and crocheting fun things for her grandchildren to wear.